Barbara Feinberg
Welcome to Lizard Motel:
Children, Stories, and the
Mystery of Making Things Up.
Beacon Press, 209 pages, $23.00

In the seventh grade, at my small public middle school, I grumbled persistently about the books my English teacher assigned. She sensed in my recalcitrance a chance for experimentation and devised a new curriculum for me: I would read the entire oeuvre of a fellow called Robert Cormier—best known for his once-controversial The Chocolate War—and interview him by telephone.

The project was not a pleasant one. Jerry Renault, the protagonist of The Chocolate War, is essentially a Holden Caulfield clone; the book is gloomy and pedantic: all life is suffering, non illegitimi carborundum, and the like. Cormier’s other “young adult novels” hinge on home invasion, a school bus hijacking, a boy living in an...


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